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Inter-War Years (Weimar Germany #AtoZChallenge)

In the first half of the XX century, two world wars ravaged Europe. The fact that two horrible conflicts on a world scale were crammed into such a short time has always blown my mind. One would think that humans should be smarter than that. I mean, didn’t anyone learn anything from WWI? Why did WWII break out so shortly after that?
Well, what if the interwar years were not a time of peace between two wars at all, but were themselves a time of war?

The concept of the European Civil War isn’t new, and it isn’t universally accepted, but it’s one that, in my opinion, explains many things. I’ve read historians who sustain this thesis and historians who reject it. I’d say that both positions are acceptable, both are logical and historically based, and, in the end, it really just depends on how you feel about it, if you consider the interwar years a time of peace or war.
Personally, because of the short time between the two world wars, I’m inclined to consider the first half of the XX century as one Thirty-years War.

Das Locarno-Auto von Paris in Berlin eingetroffen! Das Locarno-Auto ein Modell aus dem Jahre 1889 traf von Paris kommend in Berlin ein. Das Locarno-Auto passiert das Brandenburger Tor in Berlin.
"Some historians consider the period between the breaking out of #WWI and the end of #WWII and one thirty-year long war: an European Civil War #history Share on X

The concept of the European Civil War rests on the idea that the twenty years of the interwar period were not really a time of peace, but they were a continuation of the world conflict in a different fashion.
Europe wasn’t accustomed to war anymore. War was something that happened somewhere else. The long XIX century had brought about peace on the continent and advancement in all fields of life, from science to industry, to medicine, and also an evolution in social attitude and expectation. Victorian people had a strong feeling that theirs was the best possible world and that the future was going to be even better, created by their enlighted society.

But inside this world, anxiety was mounting. The industrial revolution, in particular, was changing society in dramatic ways, as people moved from rural to urban life. Everything was evolving, and the balance created at the beginning of the century was slowly but surely becoming artificial. This is why WWI was saluted with such enthusiasm, especially by young people: they believed a short war would readjust the inner imbalance.
Nobody ever imagined that the evolution had been so profound. WWI – at least in the beginning – was a new kind of war fought with obsolete rules. It was a massacre. It was the destruction of everything which existed before, not just life as they knew it, but also the minds of people were changed.

Here’s where the two lines of historical interpretation diverge.

What’s the European Civil War?

Historians who support the idea of a European Civil War stress the concept of imbalance. Everything moved and evolved at an unthinkable speed. Monarchy – the society based on it – was dying out all over Europe, replaced by democratic regimes. But these regimes – as Weimar largely teaches us – were far from being stable. Democracy was too new to many populations, and the idea that a strong figure should lead a nation as the old monarchies had done was strong everywhere to the point to make an authoritarian regime acceptable, when not even preferable.
Many segments of the population – women, ethnic minorities – were gaining space in society and politics and nobody knew how to deal with this. The instability of the economy was expected after such a long war, the Great Depression that spread from the US to Europe eventually made it direr.

This was common all over Europe and made the time after WWI not a time of settlement, but a time of further, shocking change that never settle.
The situation of the Weimar Republic was peculiar even in these circumstances. War had never ended in the minds of Germans. The unfairness of the Treaty of Versailles kept alive the idea that enemies still surrounded Germany and many Germans thought they deserved to be ravaged from that unfairness. The myth of the ‘stab in the back’, the perception that the democratic government had betrayed the nation, the same idea that a Führer would come to settle all this, never allowed German society to settle into a new reality. Instead, they moved to a new imbalance, one that would bring them into a new conflict which was a direct consequence and a continuation of the first.

Why not an European Civil War?

Historians who reject the idea of the European Civil War stress the differences between the two conflicts.
While WWI was definitely a Eurocentric event, in spite of the intervention of the US, WWII was a conflict that really spread all over the world, with fronts in Asia and in the Pacific.
The two wars were also very different in nature. While WWI was in many respect a civil war, since the nations involved belonged to the same civilization, WWII was a conflict of ideals as well as nations, since the reasons behind the war were strongly rooted in opposing ideologies.
And finally, WWII was a total war in a far complete way than WWI. It involved in the conflict and in the battles both civilians in their cities and the soldiers at the front.


Counterfire – Fire and Blood, The European Civil War 1914-1918

Enzo Travero, A ferro e fuoco. La guerra civile europea (1914-1945), Il Mulino, Bologna, 2008
Mario Isnenghi and Giorgio Rochat, La Grande Guerra, 1914-1918, Il Mulino, Bologna, 2014

Weimar Germany - INTER-WAR YEARS (AtoZChallenge) The concept of the European Civil War rests on the idea that the twenty years of the interwar period were not really a time of peace, but they were a continuation of the world conflict if in a different fashion.


  • Karen
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 03:27

    It is so sad to have two wars so close together. I think I would lean towards the time between them being a continuation in some fashion.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 10, 2018 at 17:12

      That’s one of the most convincing thing for me. The two World Wars were too closed and too destructive.

  • Birgit
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 05:01

    I have been gone for the weekend so now I am catching up. I always considered the time between the wars as a cease fire it just last longer than the normal 12 hrs. Considering how nutty Hitler sounded but promised what the “average” folk wanted and compare that to today, one can’t help but have a bit of worry…sorry for saying this. It’s strange how everything worked in a such a way to create what would happen, devastatingly so.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 10, 2018 at 17:15

      Well, I’d rather say that what happened was the result of many events that accumulated in the previous years 😉

  • Carrie-Anne
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 05:05

    This theory is new to me, but it kind of makes sense. It’s so tragic how the events and ending of WWI did nothing but set the stage for an even worse war a generation later.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 10, 2018 at 17:22

      I think it makes a lot of sense too.
      I see what the other historians say about the two World Wars to be different in nature, but to me the argumetations in favour ot the Civil War theory are stronger.

  • Claire Noland
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 08:12

    Such an interesting perspective. You always give me so much to think about.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 10, 2018 at 17:24

      If you are interested, do read Traverso’s book (it’s been translated into English), it’s fantastic.

  • Tasha Duncan-Drake
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 15:36

    I had not heard of the European Civil war theory. Most interesting, but I have to say I find myself siding with the second, not a civil war theory, although I suspect it depends entirely on the view point of the country within which the history is being made.
    Tasha’s Thinkings – Movie Monsters

    • Post Author
      Posted April 10, 2018 at 17:27

      I think it’s mostly about our own perspective (and of course the same is true for historians). Both are logical and have good grounds, so I sospect there is truth in both of them. In the end, it probably depends on what elements we think are more important in understanding the period.

  • Anabel Marsh
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 16:05

    Interesting perspective. I can certainly see why Germany viewed the first war as unfinished business, and you’ve made me think a bit more about the rest!

    • Post Author
      Posted April 10, 2018 at 17:33

      Most certainly, the war never ended for the Germans. In this sense, I find it very hard to argument that the two wars are not connected.

  • Roland R Clarke
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 20:20

    I’ve always taken the second approach, although peace was uneasy and fragile. But then it has been since the end of WWII. In fact, it could be argued that we are still not at peace given that wars have raged since WWI, and the root causes remain. Peace is an illusion in many respects. History is something that many politicians ignore, repeatedly.Maybe, I’ve argued myself onto viewpoint one.

  • Shari
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 22:23

    This was an interesting theory and not even a debate that I was aware of. There is so much to learn from history if we are ready and willing to learn. Great post.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 12, 2018 at 09:27

      Happy you found it interesting. I discovered this debate when I started researching WWI recently.

  • Kristin
    Posted April 11, 2018 at 03:00

    They seem to be so connected that I’m inclined to agree with the first theory.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 12, 2018 at 09:28

      Me too. I see the differences, but to me, the connection is too strong to be ingored or dismissed.

  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted April 11, 2018 at 03:40

    I can see how someone would believe that it was just one long war. And I’ve always thought that the single most important cause of WW II was WW I. That connection makes a great deal of sense to me.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 12, 2018 at 09:29

      When I read about the European Civil War the first time, it was as if a bulb had lit in my mind 🙂

  • Hilary
    Posted April 12, 2018 at 06:02

    Hi Sarah – this is fascinating … I’d say each was a separate development – yet each hinged on some linked aspect … I think I’d go with the 2nd, yet obviously the 1st played a role –

    This is an excellent series – cheers Hilary

    • Post Author
      Posted April 12, 2018 at 09:30

      I think this is precisely the thing: both theories have merits and I believe there’s truth in both.

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